Day 20 Self- Control: the bookend

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And so we’ve made it to the end of our 20 days of digging deeper, and hopefully you’ve been encouraged to continue mining for gems, perhaps keeping your journal into the other 11 months of 2015 and keeping on using the tools that we’ve been mining with.

Today, we come to the last of the nine Fruits of the Spirit Paul mentions in Galatians 5. The first was Love and the last is Self-Control; no coincidence I feel since really these are the two fruits on which the others hinge. We’ve seen that Love encompasses all aspects of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and humility; but it is not possible to cultivate these fruits in our lives without this final vital virtue – self-control. As the picture above illustrates, Love and Self-control are like bookends that hold the others in place. We cannot demonstrate the other virtues and shine for the Lord if we can’t discipline and control self!

As you review what we’ve learned together, what practical steps do you feel you need to take in your life to allow these fruits to grow? How do you feel about this? Determined….excited…..encouraged….ready to persevere?

Or perhaps deep inside you feel a bit defeated…..”I’ll never manage this”….”I won’t stick to it”….”I just can’t control that”….”I won’t be able to change”?

Perhaps you even feel like that with regard to continuing with your Bible studies. You may be relieved to have made it to the end of the 20 days but secretly inside now you know you’ll end up having a more relaxed approach and only study your Bible when you feel like it.

Well that’s where self-control comes in, so let’s learn more about it.

Definition:

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Reading:

First we will consider what happens in lives where there is no self-control.

Proverbs 5 v 21-23

Proverbs 25 v 28

Joshua 7 v 1-5, 21-26

Journal:

Note down what Proverbs 5 v 23 says will happen to wicked people who have no discipline. Note that the writer says wicked deeds, coming from a lack of self-control, ensnare (or trap) the people who carry them out.

We often feel it would be great to have a life with no rules or discipline….free to do whatever we feel like, when we feel like it. But this verse reminds us that the opposite is actually true. Having no discipline doesn’t bring freedom – it actually traps us, because our sins are controlling us, rather than us, by God’s Spirit, bringing them under control.

Proverbs 25 v 28 says that if we have no self-control we are like a city that is broken down without any walls. What do you think this means? Remember in the time when Proverbs was written every city had an outer wall for protection, keeping enemies out and the city safe. Can you note down any ways we put ourselves in danger by having no self-control?

Background to Joshua 7:

The Children of Israel were on the brink of conquering the Promised Land. They had just had a wonderful victory marching round the walls of Jericho and miraculously taking over that large city. But God had given them an instruction not to take any of the treasures that they found in Jericho and next they moved on with great optimism to conquer the city of Ai.

Note down what happened in Ai and why it happened.

God revealed to Joshua that it was Achan who had disobeyed Him by taking items from Jericho. Note down how Achan describes his sin in v21:

“I saw….I coveted…..I took.”

At which point should Achan have exercised self-control?

We will always face temptations in life (“I saw”) but we must be careful to immediately say “No!” Once we give the thought a foothold in our minds (by meditating on it or “chewing it over”) it moves on to the next level (“I coveted”) then this is where  our protective walls start crumbling down and we allow ourselves open to the final defeat (“I took”).

Notice also how Achan’s sin fits in with our definition above. He saw the treasure and wanted it for himself; it was urgent that he should have it now! (Ever felt like that with that piece of chocolate fudge cake?). So rather than stopping to consider that obeying God’s command was more important and that disobeying would have consequences, he chose what seemed like an urgent need.

What was the sad outcome for Achan? Notice how this matches with the words from Proverbs 5 v 21-23.

Do you think Achan enjoyed having the plunder that he stole?

Note that he had hidden them in the ground inside his tent. What good was that to him? A beautiful garment wasn’t going to bring him any pleasure hidden in a hole in the ground!

Isn’t this the case in our lives? We give in to what the bible refers to as the desires of our flesh because we can’t say “No!” Then how do we feel afterwards? Usually we are immediately hit with regret and guilt and the “pleasure” that we just couldn’t resist, because it seemed so tempting has brought us no lasting joy at all. Let’s try to remember that next time we feel we just can’t say “No!” (for example, next time we’re tempted to hit the snooze button again, even though we’d planned to get up early to pray!).

So how do we cultivate this self-control?

Journal:

Before we move on to look at some more verses that give us practical help, in your journal make a list of some areas where you feel you need to exercise self-control in your life and learn to say “No!” to self.

These might include:

  • Eating too much, or the wrong kinds of things
  • Our words – saying things we know we shouldn’t such as gossiping or telling secrets
  • Our thoughts – constantly chewing over our troubles or dwelling on things that don’t honour God
  • Our money – spending money that we don’t actually have and buying things we can’t afford
  • Getting up too late, so we can’t spend time with God and end up rushing into our day without our clothes on (the spiritual ones that is!)

One big area in which we all need to discipline ourselves is in the habit of spending time with God every day. This will require us to say “No!” to all the distractions that try to keep us away from these precious things.

 Reading:

2 Peter 1 v 5-10

Titus 2 v 11-14

Galatians 5 v 16

Mark 14 v 38

Journal:

There are so many verses here that are rich with advice on how we can let self-control become an abundant fruit in our lives. Take time over them all, perhaps spending a day on each one (remember there is no rush – fruit growing is a life-long affair!). Notice the importance of every word and use all the tools we’ve been working with (your dictionary, concordance and different versions of the Bible) to really dig deep and allow God to speak to you through them. Some points I noted as I looked at these verses were:

2 Peter 1 v 5-10: Keep adding on.

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This is a great list of virtues that grow one on top of the other. Note that after self-control comes perseverance. This reminded me that it’s not just about saying “No!” once; it’s a continual pattern. For example, sometimes if I’m trying to discipline my spending I may be really controlled for a few weeks, but then I can easily tell myself I’ve been so good I deserve a treat and suddenly in a moment of focusing on what seems urgent (like buying another pair of shoes) I forget about what’s important (being able to pay my bills and live debt-free) and un-do all my good work! Also note here twice Peter uses the phrase “make every effort”. Self-control is hard work, but the freedom and peace it brings is such a reward!

Titus 2 v 11-14: Remember our Hope

What should we focus on when we’re struggling to say “No!”? Verse 13 reminds us of the great hope we have of seeing the Lord Jesus when He returns. He exercised perfect self-control while here on earth for the purpose of making us pure and good. Surely when we see Him face to face we will be ashamed of the times in our lives when we have let trivial things that seemed urgent and impossible to resist, control us, rather than saying “No!”

Galatians 5 v 16: Walk in the Spirit

This gives us the key to self-control: walk in the Spirit. The Amplified version expands what this means. Pray that God would reveal to you more and more what it means to “walk in the Spirit”.

Some of the practical things we have considered over the past 20 days will help us keep in step with the Spirit, for example:

  • meditating (chewing over) our verses at all different times of the day
  • making time every morning to put on our spiritual clothes
  • setting our minds on things that please God and refusing to veer off course

Check back through your journal and list any others you find.

Mark 14 v 38: Pray ahead of Time

This is a really important one. Jesus told his disciples to “watch and pray” so that they would avoid giving in to temptation. The prayer referred to here is “constantly praying”. Sometimes when the temptation strikes and saying “Yes” and giving in seem so urgent and so appealing, praying is the last thing on our minds. That’s why we need to learn to pray ahead of time. If I know I am weak in a particular area and find it difficult to exercise self-control at certain times or in certain situations, then I must pray in advance. Again, isn’t this encouragement to spend some time each morning getting our spiritual clothes (including our suit of armour!) on? We don’t know what temptations are coming or how strong they will be. We need to have that ammunition of self-control well stocked up in readiness. Only God can give it to us through prayer.

Pray it and Say it!

Some final thoughts on self-control. How often do we say the words “I just can’t help myself” or “I don’t have any will power”? Well let’s remember right now that those are lies! You see right on Day 1 we considered that the fruits of the Spirit are planted in each of us as seeds when we are saved. God has given each of us the fruit of self-control. We can do this, not because we have an iron will, but because we have an amazing, powerful and loving Saviour who longs for us to be fruitful and live pure, self-controlled lives that shine for Him.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

(1 Thessalonians 5 v 24)

Joel 3 v 10 instructs us

Let the weak say, I am strong (a warrior).

Let’s believe God for this strength now!. We can go into battle with self and win, because we go in the strength of the Lord.

Extra Time

As a final encouragement to be strong in our daily battles and cultivate each of the fruits of the Spirit, why not take some time over the next few days to read the story of Gideon, which you’ll find beginning in Judges 6. Verses 11-14 particularly spoke to me about believing that God can do wonderful things in our lives with regard to changing us and giving us victory over all our failures. God says to each one of His children today, even though we may currently feel defeated and useless,

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.

So let’s go into the rest of 2015 trusting in our Mighty Saviour to change us, shape us and prune us until we are those abundantly fruitful Christians that He has wonderfully planned for us to become.

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Day 19: Lose Yourself

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How’s that spiritual wardrobe coming along? Back to Colossians 3 v 12 today to consider another item that makes up this beautiful Designer’s outfit.

Today we come to ‘gentleness’; however we can probably get a truer picture of what this fruit really looks like if we translate it as humility or meekness.

The last few fruits we’ve considered have had lots to do with how we handle other people (being kind, good and faithful to others), but now as we approach the last two fruits we are called to handle a whole other monster……these last two fruits look at how we handle SELF!

Brace yourself…..this may hurt!

Definition

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Ok, so I’m thinking of all the slogans and advice about ‘self’ that I hear or read about regularly. Things like:

  • Believe in yourself
  • Look after yourself
  • Stand up for yourself
  • Develop your self esteem
  • Pamper yourself
  • Be good to yourself
  • Feel good about yourself
  • Look out for yourself

Erm, not much there about ‘forget about yourself’. I’m sure you’ll agree that this definition of gentleness as “self-forgetfulness” would not sell many magazines if it appeared on the front cover. We love to hear about how to indulge ourselves and take care of ourselves, but the teaching of Jesus that says to “deny yourself” is a little bit alien to our present world. This of course means if we choose to live our lives guided by this principle, then we will be regarded as strange to the world, but then again…we do belong to a different world after all!

Pride in Disguise

Now before we move on to our verses for today, just another little consideration.

If I’m honest, in the past when comparing myself against the list of the fruits of the Spirit, humility wasn’t one of the areas I’d have been most concerned about (although that probably shows I wasn’t humble about being humble!).  The reason for this was that I had a fairly unhealthy habit of always putting myself down and thinking negative thoughts about myself. Advice I would often have been given was “Stop being so hard on yourself”,  “Have more confidence in yourself”. Perhaps you can identify with this? Do you always look at other people and compare yourself negatively or constantly beat yourself up about the things you’re ‘no good at’?

Do not be fooled – this is not humility! I realised that when I came across this quote from CS Lewis:

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You see with this kind of mindset we are actually just as pre-occupied with self as the boaster or show-off who thinks they can rule the world single-handedly. Are you spending a lot of time wishing you were….prettier / smarter /funnier / more popular / more like someone else / better at sport? Do you get down at times because you don’t really like yourself? Do you find you’re always comparing yourself to other people? When you check out others’ profiles on Facebook or their photos on Instagram, does it leave you with an empty niggling feeling that your life isn’t as exciting as theirs?

Then today we look at verses that are the key to finding freedom from those feelings. It’s time for us to forget about ourselves!

(Today’s readings are in 3 sections. You may choose to split them up over 2 or 3 days)

Reading:

Philippians 3 v 3

Philippians 3 v 8

Journal:

From these verses list what Paul firstly puts no confidence in and then secondly, counts as a priceless privilege.

It may be helpful for you to make a list of the things you feel you put your confidence in. For example, it could be

  • Looking pretty
  • Having nice clothes
  • Getting compliments from other people
  • Getting top marks at school

One of the reasons why it is unhealthy to rely on these things to make us confident is that they don’t last. For example, even the prettiest girl in the school is one day going to meet someone who looks more attractive, or as she gets older and her looks change, if this is all she has relied on for happiness, then it will be very traumatic to watch it slip away.

Pray that God will help you to give up the place these things have in your heart as you learn to place absolute value and worth only on “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him.”

Reading

Luke 9 v 23

John 3 v 30

Journal

Make a list of how the Amplified Bible explains the instruction to “deny” ourselves in Luke 9 v 23.

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As you do this and spend some time thinking about what this verse might mean for you today, why not listen to the words of Robin Mark’s lovely, but challenging song, “Jesus, All For Jesus”, by clicking on the link below.

Jesus, all for Jesus

“All of my ambitions, hopes and plans: I surrender these into your hands.”

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John the Baptist spoke those powerful words from John 3 v 30 (incidentally, he was the long-awaited son of Elizabeth and Zechariah who we looked at last week….so after their long wait they definitely got a very special son!). Write these words in your journal and perhaps on several postcards to place as reminders in lots of places you will see this week.

Pray that God will make this the genuine desire of your heart!

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To let this happen we must let self fade into the background and become more and more consumed with Jesus. But how do we do this?

I think some of the practical things we have considered from previous days will really help with this self-forgetfulness:

Just as we saw yesterday, start with little things – little denials of self on a daily basis that will eventually become our character and our life. These will include things like letting someone else have the last word when they argue with us (Patience – remember Dougal and Lily!), inviting those who are in need of friends to our lunch table or birthday party, even though it’ll require effort on our part(Kindness), risking our popularity by telling the truth and standing up for what’s right (Goodness), going the extra mile to do a job well (more goodness), making commitments and sticking with them even when we really don’t feel like it (faithfulness). These daily acts of self-denial will train us for a future of decreasing as Jesus increases.

But what about ME?

Perhaps inside that is your deep concern, and if we’re honest a lot of us feel this way. It’s all well and good always putting other people first and denying ourselves what we want, but this raises the question: “Who’s going to look after me?”

The answer is simple and glorious. You’ll find it in these last verses:

Reading:

Matthew 5 v 5

1 Peter 5 v 6

Journal:

Wow! Think about the promises in these verses and remember we learned yesterday that God is completely faithful. What he has promised will come to pass.

I love the fact that 1 Peter 5 v 6 is immediately followed by that beautiful verse we considered some days ago about casting all our worries and concerns on the Lord. This reminds me that the Lord knows it’s difficult for us to humble ourselves and give all our hopes, dreams and ambitions over to Him and seek His will above our own; but if we’re concerned about this He wants us to talk to Him about it and give that to Him as well.

Why not do that now!

When we are finding it particularly difficult to surrender something to the Lord (maybe something we feel He wants us to give up, or alternatively a path we feel He wants us to take that we’re resisting) it can be helpful to really study and focus on how much God loves us and remember that He is full of goodness and only wants the best for His children. Perhaps God’s Love could be your next area of focus for digging deeper after these studies are finished tomorrow.

Freedom from Self: How to Catch a Monkey

I heard this story being told by Danielle Strickland recently and it reminded me how we so often cling on to our own wants and desires, putting self first and yet ultimately getting ourselves caught in a trap of discontentment that God wants to free us from:

Do you know how to catch a monkey using only a coconut? This is how the natives on the island of Borneo do it without causing any injury to the monkey. They hollow out a large football sized coconut leaving a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey to slip its hand into. They then fill the coconut with either green bananas or peanuts, both favourite foods for a monkey and attach a hidden chain and bolt to the coconut. Along comes a monkey, excited to discover the lovely food, and he slips his hand inside and grasps a handful of banana. However, when he tries to withdraw his hand, which is now a clenched fist holding the food, he discovers it won’t fit back through the hole. Obviously the solution is for the monkey to let go of the banana and escape without it, but he is so keen to hold on to this treasured food he won’t let go and so is trapped and captured! He’ll often end up exhausted and bleeding from his attempts to escape while still holding on to the banana.

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Jesus tells us to deny ourselves (self-forgetfulness) and follow Him, because He knows this is the path to freedom. Are there things today we are clinging on to and refusing to let go of? Let’s not be like the monkey, who missed out on the chance of freedom simply because he wouldn’t let go!

Extra Time:

You can read more about the lovely quality of meekness in a woman from the blog “Lies Young Women Believe” which posts new articles every day, at the link below:

http://www.liesyoungwomenbelieve.com/no-drama-queens-allowed/

See you tomorrow for our last one!

Day 18: You Rock!

IMG_06903 more days and 3 more fruits! Let’s keep digging.

“You’re a real rock!”

I wonder how you’d feel to be on the receiving end of such a statement. “A rock” doesn’t have the most glamorous ring to it; it speaks of being solid, secure, reliable, steady, stable and dependable. Perhaps we’d rather think of ourselves as being spontaneous, adventurous and exciting. However, when we examine closely the qualities we truly admire in our friends surely reliability, trustworthiness, loyalty and commitment are at the top of our list. They were high on the apostle Paul’s list when he outlined the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. He refers to these virtues as “Faithfulness” and we look more closely at this fruit today.

I’ll take this as another opportunity to remind us in a picture that we can always learn a lot from our pets, most particularly man’s faithful friend, the dog:

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Reading: God’s Faithfulness

All the fruits of the Spirit come from God, since they are the qualities that He demonstrates to us. Let’s find out more about God’s faithfulness:

Deuteronomy 32 v 4

Lamentations 3 v 22-23

Psalm 27 v 1

2 Timothy 2 v 13

Journal

Jot down what we learn from these verses about God’s faithfulness. Try to put into your own words what it means to describe God as the Rock and a Stronghold, then use your concordance or search bar on your Bible app to find some more verses that refer to God as our Rock.

Take some time to think about what a blessing it is to have such a dependable God who never ever changes. We can get very frustrated with, and hurt by, friends who blow hot and cold and leave us unsure where we stand. Isn’t it great to have the steadiness of a loving Saviour, our Rock, in our lives? Why not write down a prayer to the Lord thanking Him for being your Rock?

Did you notice in 2 Timothy 2 v 13 how God’s faithfulness to us doesn’t depend on us being faithful to Him? Again, what a blessing! However we need to remember that He is setting us the example to follow and this is the standard for how we should treat others. Let’s do some revision for a moment or two…..

Love…..when people are not lovely

Joy…..when circumstances are not happy

Peace…..when it’s stormy

Patience….when people don’t deserve it

Kindness….when it makes us vulnerable

Goodness….. in the ups and the downs

Faithfulness….even to those who are not faithful

Yes, we really need a faithful God, our Rock, to produce this kind of fruit in our lives.

Reading: Being Faithful

1 Timothy 3 v 11

Luke 16 v 10

Journal:

Write out the verses above into your journal.

1 Timothy 3 v 11 is giving instructions about how women who serve in the church should behave. What do they need to be faithful in? All things! That’s quite a challenge!!

But then Luke 16 v 10 really explains to us how to begin being faithful in ALL things…through being faithful in the SMALL things.

Before we consider what some of these small things might be, if you have time, read Matthew 25 v 14-30, a story which reinforces the importance of being faithful and trustworthy with small things.

Small things become all things

In your journal make a list of all the different aspects of your life (school, home, friends, church etc) and jot down any areas within these where you think the Lord is prompting you to be more reliable and trustworthy.

Some ideas:

Warning.

As you read some of these prompts you may think these are very trivial tiny things that really don’t matter; but let me encourage you to think about this verse from Song of Solomon.

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Remember we are growing fruit, a vine if you like. This verse tells us it can be lots of little things (“the little foxes”) that spoil the fruits flourishing in our lives, rather than one big major problem.

School :

  • Do you always get your homework done on time and to the best standard that you know you are capable of?
  • Do you show respect for school property by tidying away your litter and helping tidy classrooms? You may think that’s a very minor issue, but by leaving a mess behind us we are showing a lack of respect to the cleaning staff who then have extra work to do because of us! Our thoughtlessness can make these people feel very under-valued.

[Note, another case of this is when we’re shopping. How do we react when we brush past a clothes rail and knock down a few items? If we leave them lying and walk away are we not showing real thoughtlessness to the people who will have to come along after us and pick them up?]

Friends

  • Are you true to your word when you make arrangements to meet up or get in touch? Will your friends know they can rely on you? “If she said she’ll be there, she’ll be there!”
  • Secrets – this is a big one! When someone confides something in you, can you be trusted to keep it a secret? Sometimes, because we’re bursting to tell, we can convince ourselves we’re only passing it on out of concern, but if that genuinely is the case, surely we should be willing and able to tell our friend what we’ve done.

It’s such a blessing to have people in your life who you know can listen to you in confidence and you have full assurance it won’t be passed on. Learn to be a person like that.  Amy Carmichael put it like this

“learn to be a deep well”.

It’s a great quality to develop!

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Commitments

You probably have commitments to church activities or sports clubs, where people are relying on you to turn up.

  • Do you just go when you feel like it? Again this can show an attitude of thoughtlessness. What if resources have been prepared for you in advance and by your ‘no show’ they are wasted, or this leaves your team or group short of numbers? Remember, usually our lack of faithfulness is causing others to have to work harder!
  • Punctuality – ok, I know this is an area I need to work on! While studying this I’ve been struck by how lateness can be a “little fox”. Consistently turning up late for friends or activities can give those we keep waiting the impression that their time doesn’t really matter and they’re unimportant to us.

Yes, these are all small things, but the small things will add together to become all things. It has been said that

“character is what we are when no-one is looking”.

This involves being faithful in these small things that we think others may not notice, but God notices and promises that if we are faithful in small, He will give us more responsibilities to serve Him in His Kingdom.

“Do the right thing, even when no-one is looking”,

because remember God is always looking! Victory in our lives is found by doing the right thing, not just once or twice, but over and over and over again. It’s all the small things that add up to form a character and a life.

None of this may sound very exciting or even challenging, but it can have a lasting impact. William Carey was a great missionary, faithful in service to God for 41 years in India. When asked to discuss the secret of his success he said

“I can plod, I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything”.

In other words William Carey had learned to be consistent and faithful in things big and small, which come together to be all things.

Final Thoughts: Faithfulness to God

As we draw near to the end of the 20/20 Vision Challenge and you have been faithful in your Bible studies, let’s pray and be determined that this is an area in which we will continue to be faithful. Surely being faithful to digging deeper in Bible study and praying about everything that we learn, as well as the needs of others, is the secret to developing faithfulness in all things!

Day 17: God meant it for Good

Let’s get straight back into looking at the life of Joseph today. There are so many more gems here to be discovered, especially on the topic of Goodness.

We’ll remind ourselves of the true definition:

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Being the same in one situation as another….

Hmmm, so let’s see now. Would Joseph behave the same way in a prison cell as he did at home as the favoured son?

Reading:

Genesis 39 v 20-23

Genesis 40 v 16-23

Genesis 45 v 2-8

Genesis 50 v 20

Journal:

Remember with stories like this it is useful to jot down what you observe and then how it applies to your situation. Use SOAP!

Some Ideas for O & A:

39 v 20-23 Goodness Brings God’s Favour

There was no wallowing in self-pity going on in this prison cell! It seems that Joseph was kept very busy looking after the other prisoners and again, being entrusted with a role of leadership. His whole life had been turned upside down once again and to make that harder to swallow, this had happened because of his integrity and goodness. But just like we saw with Elizabeth and Zechariah, Joseph chose to live a blameless life while he was waiting for God to bring justice to his situation. As a result He experienced God’s goodness and favour being poured out on Him, even in the middle of a dismal prison.

There may be times when it seems the fruit of goodness brings trouble into our lives initially, as we saw yesterday; but in these times we must have faith that God will bring blessing into our lives in His time and in His way.

Someone who learned this was Eric Liddell, the Olympic athlete and then missionary to China. By refusing to race on a Sunday, he missed out on the chance to win a gold medal in the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics in 1924. This made him unpopular with those who didn’t understand his integrity and felt he’d let his country down. However, God had bigger plans for blessing Him and using Him for His glory.  He ran instead in the 400 metres, a distance that wasn’t his strength, and not only brought home the gold medal but broke the Olympic record.

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Eric Liddell, like Joseph,  knew it was important to do every task with a spirit of excellence. He demonstrated this in his duties in a World War II concentration camp where he died, and also in his running. He is quoted as saying

“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Do we feel God’s pleasure in all the tasks we do, whether big or small? Having this attitude to our school work, for example, can make a big impact on others!

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40 v 16 – 23 Goodness tells the truth – even when it will hurt!

Joseph, through his gift of interpreting dreams, had been able to give the butler some good news. You can imagine the baker listening excitedly, hoping for a similar interpretation. However, Joseph knew that the baker’s dream had an opposite meaning. Rather than signalling his release, it suggested his execution was just around the corner. How would Joseph handle this? It was bad enough that the poor guy was going to lose his life, never mind having to spend the next while in prison worrying about it! Perhaps the ‘nice’ thing for Joseph to do would be to compromise a little on the facts. He could water it down a little and take the nasty edge off it. Time enough for the baker to learn his fate when he was called out of the cell. After all, it’s more important to make people feel good about themselves, rather than to hit them with hard truth. Right?

Not according to our definition of Goodness it isn’t….honesty and integrity mean telling the whole truth, even when it may be difficult.

Think about how this applies to sharing the gospel. It is so easy to water down what we know to be true from the Bible, simply because we feel it will be difficult for people to hear. However, if we truly love these people, we will realise that keeping the truth from them about the danger they are in with regard to their sins, is not kind or loving in the long run. Surely, at the end times they will ask how we could have known the truth and kept it to ourselves.

Pray today for those who you know are in danger, living their lives without God’s salvation. Pray that you may have opportunities to share the message of God’s love with them and will be brave enough not to compromise.

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45 v 2-8, 50 v 20 Seeing God’s Goodness

It’s amazing how God brought Joseph from the pit to the prison and then to the palace, where he was eventually reunited with his brothers! These verses show such grace from Joseph as he reveals his identity to the brothers. How different this scene would have been if Joseph had spent that difficult period of almost 20 years dwelling on how badly he’d been treated and growing more and more bitter towards his brothers.

We might ask how had Joseph managed to keep such a good attitude during such difficult circumstances (and remember he hadn’t read the book….he didn’t know how his story was going to end up!). Perhaps the secret to Joseph’s goodness can be seen in v 8 and later in ch 50 v 20. Joseph knew all along that it was God who was ultimately in control of all circumstances, that although the brothers meant to harm him, God was overall in control and could bring good out of even the most cruel of times.

Remember Romans 8 and all our reasons to be joyful:

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Whenever we find ourselves in difficult times, perhaps caused by the wrong attitudes and actions of others, let’s in those times focus on God’s goodness. He can bring good into our lives, even out of tragedy, if we will remain true to Him. As we focus on His goodness, it will start to reflect in our lives and the fruit of goodness that He has planted as a seed will grow!

Day 16: Be Good

imageWhat is goodness? This is a definition I’ve struggled with. So often we just think of it as being similar to kindness – doing good deeds for other people. But if Paul listed it as a separate fruit of the Spirit there must be more to it than this. I suppose my earliest encounter with the idea of goodness was as a child when we would go visiting. There would always be that inevitable conversation in the car en route where we would be warned in preparation “Now be good!” (similar to the instruction every child gets when entering a china shop “Now don’t touch anything!”). I knew exactly what “being good” meant in that context….remember my manners, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, don’t interrupt when the adults were talking, go easy on the chocolate biscuits if there was tea on the go and play nice with the other children’s toys. (In addition I always had to get an extra reminder not to be telling any secrets, since spilling the beans was my unfortunate trademark  as a child growing up: “We bought your Christmas present this week. It’s a bracelet!”)

So is this fruit of Goodness just really all round best behaviour? Well again we will look to Tim Keller’s helpful translations from the original Greek word:

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Another English word that we don’t hear much of but means the same thing as this is “integrity”. You could look up some definitions of what it means to be a person with integrity.

Tim Keller also helps us understand what goodness means by explaining that the opposite of it is phoniness (ie being false) or hypocrisy.

So now that we hopefully have a clearer picture of what the fruit of goodness is you could write a definition into your journal and get ready to explore one character in the Bible who demonstrated this fruit in lots of different situations.

Reading:

We will look at some snapshots from the life of Joseph. If you have time read through the gaps between these verses to keep up with how his story progresses. The key verses for today are:

Genesis 37 v 2

Genesis 37 v 13-17

Genesis 39 v 1-4

Genesis 39 v 7-12

This is quite long, so split it up over as many days as you need to. As you read the verses use the SOAP technique to jot down what you observe and then how it applies to your situation.

Gen 37 v 2: Goodness tells the truth, even when it’s unpopular

 Joseph brought his father a bad report of them

So often we’re accustomed to thinking of young Joseph as someone who we wouldn’t like…a tell-tale, a show-off. It can sometimes even be painted as if Joseph brought a lot of his later troubles on himself: no wonder his brothers hated him when he was always sucking up and telling tales! But let’s think about this more closely, because I really believe Joseph actually sets us a true example of goodness here in this verse. Look ahead to verse 14. It was obviously common place for Jacob to send Joseph (perhaps the only son he knew he could trust) to find out if everything was ok with the sheep. This is most likely what the background to v 2 was. Joseph had been sent out with a job to do. Obviously what Joseph saw was not good. Perhaps the brothers were neglecting the sheep in favour of doing their own thing, or we know from reading about these men that they could be very cruel. Perhaps the sheep were being badly treated. So what would you do in Joseph’s shoes?  Your brothers hate you and if you tell the truth it will only get worse. Joseph chose to display goodness – this means he hated to see his father being taken advantage of and the proper job not being done and so responded with complete honesty.

In society today, telling the truth like this is seen as the ultimate betrayal and the person who stands up for what is right is often viewed more negatively than the people they stand up against. But as Christians we follow God’s behaviour patterns, not the world’s. Can you think of any situations, perhaps in school, where you need to take a stand against something that is wrong, even though it may be unpopular to do so? What about if you know someone in your class is being bullied or given a hard time, perhaps even online? Would you be willing to speak out against wrong behaviour? Or for those of us at work, when we know there are dishonest things going on or colleagues are being exploited do we just turn a blind eye?

To always stand up for what is good may cost us our popularity, so what is really at the heart of this is the following probing question:

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It was lovely thinking of the verse in Philippians which told us if we did the right thing we would shine like stars. That was very appealing! But what about these words from the New Testament?

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We must be aware that if we consistently do the right thing it will make us unpopular. This is because light shows up darkness and those who (like Joseph’s brothers) are doing ‘dark deeds’ would prefer that there was no light around them!

But a word of caution about this before we move on:

We need to be very careful about our true motives. Sometimes we can secretly be pleased if someone we don’t like steps out of line or behaves badly and we get the chance to tell others what they’ve done. We maybe are inwardly happy to tarnish their reputation or score ourselves some brownie points. This is not an example of goodness!

Genesis 37 v 13-17 Goodness will always go the 13 miles!

Jacob gave Joesph the same assignment in v13, to go and check on his brothers and bring back a report. Notice Joseph’s willingness to do it. He didn’t try to reason his way out of it by explaining to his father that his brothers didn’t even have a kind word for him (v4). He simply says “Here I am.”

When our Heavenly Father gives us a task to do, even if it is difficult and may make us unpopular, are we as willing as Joseph was to do it? 

We find in v 15- 17 that Joseph had the golden opportunity to avoid the trouble and abuse that awaited him. When he got to Schechem his brothers weren’t where they were supposed to be. What a great chance to run home and tell daddy on them while at the same time avoid the inevitable bullying he was in for. But this is not how goodness would behave. This would not be honest and transparent. Do you know how much further Joseph had to go to find his brothers at Dothan? 13 miles. 13 long weary miles of walking in the hot sun. And what awaited him at the end of the 13 mile trek? A group of men who we’re told would not even have a kind word for him; a group of men who even as he approached in the distance were plotting his death.

Would I have gone the extra 13 miles? Or would I have compromised by getting to Schechem and thinking “Oh well I tried, but they’re not here.” One definition of a compromise is:

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Can you think of any situations in your life where you may be be tempted to compromise? Let’s pray that God will help us to always come up higher and do the extra miles. Joseph wouldn’t let 13 miles be the distance to stop him fulfilling his father’s will.

Do we always do the best job that we can when we’re given a task? Think of your attitude to your homework or tasks at work.

Genesis 39 v 1-4 Goodness is consistent

So we all know the story of where Joseph ended up – a slave in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, far from the love and favour of his father. This is how we know that Joseph’s previous actions looked at above had sprung from the goodness in his heart. If he had been telling tales to deliberately get his brothers into trouble and revel in his father’s favouritism, surely now that would all fizzle out. Surely now was the time for Joseph to throw a massive ‘pity party’, decide that ‘being good’ was not worth the hassle and grow rebellious and hard in his heart.

Write down words to describe how Joseph would have been feeling in his early days as a slave.

How did he actually behave when he felt like this?

Joseph clearly had made a choice that he would always do the right thing and approach every task he was given with an excellent attitude. I’m sure there were many duties on his daily ‘To Do’ list that he didn’t enjoy, but goodness is consistent. Note down the different tasks on your ‘To Do’ list at the minute; remember to include your chores at home as well as your school work. Think about which you will find it hardest to approach with excellence, but pray that we will be like Joseph and choose to always give our best, even when we really don’t feel like it!

Genesis 39 v 7-12 Goodness doesn’t look for excuses

We all know this part of the story very well. Sometimes with a well known story we don’t really stop to put ourselves right into the person’s shoes. Spend some time thinking about why this situation would have been very tempting for Joseph. For example, remember

  • Joseph was not a free man, so probably had no opportunity to have a relationship with any other female
  • Joseph had done the right thing while at home and the result had not appeared to be blessing, but rather hardship.
  • Joseph would have been missing the close companionship he had with his father and was probably lonely at times
  • He could have felt he had no choice – “she is my boss after all”
  • This was not just a one off suggestion – this occurred day after day.

If we are not acting with genuine goodness, we can usually justify wrong behaviour in our minds. Christians will not very often say “I know this is wrong but I’m just going to do it anyway.” Rather, we can be very good at finding excuses and ways to justify our actions in our own minds.  Joseph could have made lots of excuses in his mind to convince himself it would be ok to get involved with Potiphar’s wife; but he again did the right thing and acted with goodness.

Are there situations in your life where you are facing real temptations? Let’s pray that we will see through the excuses the devil tries to give us and always choose to do the right thing.

Be good!

Day 15: The Gem Inspectors

imageSo here we are two thirds of the way through our 20 days of digging deeper. Just like last Sunday, rather than look at new fruit, I think it is a good idea to take some time out again, and explore what we have uncovered this week.

Do you remember right back at the beginning when we met those happy little chappies digging away in the mine? The cute clip from the Disney film that we watched showed the dwarfs not only digging, but also inspecting the gems they had uncovered. This was a vital part of their process of mining!

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That’s what I’d encourage us to do today. Take some time to review what we’ve learned this week and think about what has particularly challenged you. That’s the whole purpose of keeping a journal, so that you can look back and remember what God has been saying. Hold up the things that you’ve heard God saying to you and inspect them closely. Let them really shine out to you today. The ‘gem inspector’ would hold his diamonds up to the light. We can do that by talking to God about our gems, since He is the Light who can show us the way to go forward with the teachings He has put in our hearts.

In the parable of the soil that we considered in Day 1, one of the problems that prevented the seed from growing was that it got snatched away by the birds right at the start. It’s so easy to let this happen with the Word of God. We read something, we’re challenged about it, but somehow in the busyness of life, we allow it to be snatched away before it has taken root in our lives. We can prevent this happening by taking some quiet time today to look back at the fruits of

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Which of these have you most been challenged or encouraged by? Listen closely for what God is saying. We’ve covered a lot of ground, but can you hear Him laying one particular thought or challenge on your heart?

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Another Enemy Tactic

We’ve mentioned before how badly the devil wants to keep us all back from God’s Word. He knows that when we start digging deeper we will uncover precious truths that will ultimately change us to become more like Jesus. Obviously, if you’ve been following the Bible studies then these enemy tactics haven’t worked! However, let’s not be fooled…unfortunately he has plenty more ammunition, but we can get wise to his tricks.

I sometimes enjoy reading blogs about healthy eating and exercise; however, at times when my own eating has been far from healthy and my only exercise is walking from the car to the house, those blogs have made me feel useless. I can be so overwhelmed by all the things they tell me I should be doing or not doing that there’s only one response applicable….reach for the maltesers!

In a much more important sphere though, it can sometimes be a bit like that when we explore a lot of practical teaching from the Bible, such as this week. Rather than encouraging us, it can make us feel very bad about ourselves. “I’m useless.” “There’s so much in my life that needs to change”. “I just don’t know where to start.” Our response to those feelings of guilt can sometimes be to just block it all out and give up. Please don’t! This is just another ploy of the devil’s to keep us back from becoming the bright shining stars God has planned for us to become.

The process of becoming more like Jesus is called sanctification and it is exactly that…a process! It won’t happen overnight, but through His grace and power we can be changed bit by bit to become truer reflections to the world of who He is.

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So that is another good reason to take some time today and ask God

“What one thing are you saying to me Lord?”

Last week I introduced you to the Set Apart Girl website and magazine. There is a really helpful article in there on this very topic and it is well worth a read. In it Leslie Ludy explains the difference between being convicted about our sins by God, which is a positive thing and the start of the process of changing us, and being condemned by our sins, which is a negative and destructive thing. You’ll find it by clicking on the link below

http://setapartgirl.com/leslie-ludy/blog/05-12-14/condemnation-or-conviction

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Read Ahead:

I’m sure you all like to get your homework done well in advance of deadlines and would never be caught out being a ‘last minute” kinda girl. Right?

Well over the next two days we will be exploring our next fruit by looking at the life of just one young person: Joseph. We’ll be dipping into a few different situations in Joseph’s very colourful life, looking at just a selection of verses; but to really help you get the most from this it would be a good idea to take time today to read the entire story if you can.

You’ll find it in Genesis chapters 37, 38-45

Why not take this as an opportunity to experiment with the Audio Bible which is available on most Bible apps? You can sit back and listen to the chapters being read to you. Or another way that can help the story come to life is to read it aloud yourself and as you do so picture the whole story being acted out. In each part really think about how Joseph would have been feeling.

We’ve got lots more gems to uncover!

Day 14: It’s cold out there. So put your Kindness On!

 

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It’s Saturday, yay! So unlike the past five mornings where you stumbled out of bed and in automatic pilot mode reached for your school uniform, today a little thought had to go into what you would put on. Perhaps it’s been a “jammies-to-lunchtime” kinda day, or maybe the only process involved was lifting your favourite cosy hoodie from your “floor-drobe”. (This would be a fitting moment for me to upload a photo I found this week of my teenage bedroom, but my parents would not be amused!). However, I imagine if Saturday night involves an outing to Youth Club or meeting up with friends there may be a little bit more thought and effort applied!

We’ve already looked this week at Colossians 3 v 12 which tells us how to get dressed…spiritually! Paul chooses five characteristics which we as Christians should dress ourselves in every day; we look today at the clothing of kindness. We all like to think of ourselves as being kind, but let’s explore what this fruit really looks like in action.

Timothy Keller has given some really helpful explanations of each of the Greek words Paul uses in Galatians to describe the fruits of the Spirit. This is how he defines kindness:

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Journal:

Before we look at the scripture passages today you may want to copy out this definition and break down the different phrases. Then we will see how the stories highlight these different points.

So kindness…

… is about serving.

We have already met the idea of serving others in Jesus’ words in Matthew 20 v 28 “…the Son of Man came not to be waited on but to serve…”

…is practical.

It is a fruit of doing.  Yesterday we thought about waiting, being still and just sitting tight while we trust God with the ‘doing’. For many situations in our own lives that is what’s required. But this is a different fruit. It is an active fruit and involves other people. How often do we only get as far as having kind thoughts or good ideas with good intentions, but through busyness or distractions we never actually get to the ‘doing’? All too true of me! Kindness doesn’t just intend to…kindness does it!

 …makes me vulnerable.

This is an added characteristic of kindness that our English translation doesn’t quite emphasise. It’s a useful exercise to look up “vulnerable” in the dictionary.

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So being kind may come with risks, such as the risk of being taken advantage of, the risk of being unappreciated, the risk of going without ourselves, the risk of being criticised (sometimes we even hear the comment said of kind people “She’s too nice, I don’t trust her. What’s she looking for in return?”)

So as we explore this fruit further (remembering the seeds of this true and special kindness are planted in our lives already) we ask ourselves “Am I willing to become vulnerable to please the Lord?”

Let’s explore two characters in the Old Testament who were!

Reading:

2 Samuel 9 v 1-13

2 Kings 4 v 8-10

Journal:

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Journals:

Background to 2 Samuel 9.

Yesterday we thought of David as an example of someone in the Bible who spent years waiting on God. There were some very difficult times for him while Saul was still King of Israel but during these years one of the joys in David’s life was his friendship with Jonathan, Saul’s son. David was broken hearted when Jonathan was killed in battle; we join his story when he is now King.

Some ideas for O& A:

V1 David looked for someone to be kind to: “Is there anyone….?” He didn’t just wait to see what needs would show up at his palace. Isn’t this a picture of how we can put on the clothes of kindness? Each day as we get dressed physically we can ask ourselves “Is there anyone…in my class…in my work…..in my family….who I can show kindness to today?”  As we pray God will show us the people who need His love today and we can be the instrument!

V3 David was making himself vulnerable. He didn’t realise that the only relative of Jonathan’s left was a cripple with no intention of trying to regain the throne. David could have been risking showing kindness to someone who would then form a rebellion against him and try to take the throne back for Saul’s family. We can be very good at talking ourselves out of showing kindness, David certainly could have come up with excuses in this case, but didn’t! Think now of some of the excuses we often make.

V 7-10 David was practical. He didn’t just go to visit Mephibosheth and tell him old stories about the fun times he’d had with Jonathan. No, David gave him practical help and just note how many times it is emphasised that Mephibosheth ate at the King’s table. The Bible mentions showing hospitality as important behaviour that Christians should demonstrate. We all can enjoy having our close friends over to stay, but do we ever consider including those people in our classes who perhaps are not as popular? Do you ever notice girls in your class who are on their own at lunchtime? Perhaps as you pray and put on kindness, God will put it in your heart to spend time having lunch with someone new!

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V8 This is a really sad verse. Mephibosheth referred to himself as a “dead dog”. He obviously felt really useless in life because of his disability and so it meant so much to him that someone (especially the King!) would notice him and care about him. In today’s world we would say he had “low self-esteem.”  There are people all around us who feel like this and they desperately need to know how much God loves them. He wants us to reach out to them and through our acts of kindness they will feel His love. Sometimes, however, these people are not naturally easy to get along with. They may be unpopular, grumpy, or very quiet and hard to talk to; when we make attempts to befriend them we may feel hurt by their reaction if they don’t respond as we’d hoped.  Do you ever stop to think what it feels like for people in your class when a teacher says “get into groups” and there’s a pupil who knows that no-one will choose to have them in their group? As representatives of Christ shouldn’t we be the people who notice this? Shouldn’t we be the ones who make sure that person is always included? What about birthday parties? Perhaps there’s someone in your class who will always be overlooked? Maybe there seem to be valid reasons…”she’s annoying; he’s immature; she’s no fun; she’ll tell people all the stuff we talk about.”….but true kindness will take those risks in order to show the other person love.

Let’s remember today that there are people currently in our lives (in our classes, at our work, living beside us….) who God has placed in our lives for a reason. They may only be in our lives for a short time and we may be the only Christian that they currently know, or may even ever know! We have an assignment to show God’s kindness to them, even when it costs us!

2 Kings 4 v 8-10

Again apply some SOAP to these verses.

Note how practical this lady was. She first of all noticed Elisha, then she clearly put a lot of thought into what his needs would be. I imagine she tried to put herself in his shoes and think carefully what would be most helpful to him. Perhaps God has been putting some people in your heart that he would like you to show kindness to. Pray that He will help you to be creative and practical in what you could do.

This lady used her resources (we are told she was rich) to meet someone else’s needs. You maybe don’t feel that you’re in a position to use your money to show kindness if you have no income, but you may have the resource of being young, fit and energetic!  Are there elderly people in your life who would really benefit from those resources, especially in these cold months and long dark nights? Pray that God will help us notice, then be creative and practical!

Extra Time:

The story of David and Mephibosheth is a lovely picture of how God shows loving-kindness to us.

Song of Solomon 2 v 4 reads

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”

Write down some points that we have in common with Mephibosheth and try to imagine what it really meant to the young man to have this undeserved kindness given to him, changing his whole life. We should allow this to give us a whole new appreciation of the kindness that God has shown to us. God gives us the ultimate picture of kindness which becomes vulnerable, when He became a man and allowed other men, who He had created, to abuse Him and nail Him to a cross.